Review of 11/22/63

Stephen King
Scribner, 2011
849 pages
Speculative Fiction/Time Travel/Horror

11/22/63 is a wonderfully strange creature. A man by the name of Jake Epping (King fans will notice the first name immediately) is convinced by a friend to go into the past to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, using a bubble or rip in time that he has accidently discovered. The little thrill  fans will get from running into Jake as a grown man is soon followed by greater joy when Jake runs into two of the youngsters from IT, just after they’ve defeated the alien killer of children in the town of Derry. In fact, it’s this meeting, more than anything else in the novel that set the tone for me. Once King reveals that no matter where the novel goes it’s going to be a revisiting and summing up of the fantastic worlds he has written about so many times, well, let’s just say I was tickled silly.

This story most significantly relates to his earlier and difficult to read novel, “Insomnia.” That book, too, attempted to tie in all sorts of loose ends from King’s years of stories set in the same magical worlds. But unlike Insomnia, 11/22/63 is a marvelous symphony of great narration, tidbits from past novels, fantastic mentions of a past almost forgotten and biting, horrific scenes that make those of wonderment and joy achingly sad—because no one lives happily ever after in a Stephen King novel.

In fact, if you take the time to read just a few other reviews, you’re sure to find someone who claims that King can’t write “good” endings. Maybe not, but his endings are true. At least they’re true to his imaginary worlds. King even tells us this in his own way (I’m going to take liberties here), “The past is obdurate,” his protagonist claims. “It doesn’t want to change. And it’s a machine with a mouthful of very sharp teeth.” If you pay attention to phrases like that, then you’ll be better prepared when you’re affected in ways no other King novel has managed, not even The Dark Tower series.

This book exhibits a mature and controlled King, a man in his prime, writing with the sureness of a master—pundits be damned. His narrator gave King enough distance to keep this monster of a novel under control. He also managed to tie up all the paradox problems of time travel to my satisfaction. Then, with an achingly beautiful ending, King left me melancholy for the better part of a day.

11/22/63 is a suspenseful, emotionally wracking and ultimately moving novel by the best storyteller of our time. Yes, it will move you, if only you will allow yourself to believe.

(Originally published in 2012)

Copyright © 2020 Clayton Clifford Bye

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